* By Justine Stewart and Cynthia Hobbs
Imagine an assembly line, organized with all the essential inputs to produce a successful school. Now, imagine that only a handful of the schools are effective. How would you change the production process? This is the challenge that Jamaica’s Ministry of Education (MoE) faces: how to develop the proper support system to improve poorly performing schools. Though all of us can think of examples of fantastic teachers and school principals that are strong leaders, a country cannot survive on the excellence of only a few schools.
According to Jamaica’s National Education Inspectorate (NEI), effective schools are those whose performance in the following eight areas is deemed satisfactory by professional school inspectors:
- Leadership and Management
- Teaching Support for Student Learning
- Students’ Performance in National or Regional Tests and Assessments
- Students’ Progress
- Students’ Personal and Social Development
- Human and Material Resources
- Curriculum and Enhancement Programmes
- Students’ Safety, Security, Health and Wellbeing
In a recent School Effectiveness Study commissioned by the MoE through the IDB, 50% of primary and secondary schools in the sample had been classified by the NEI as effective. Of these effective schools, 70% were characterized by strong leadership. Yet one in three of the schools deemed ineffective also obtained a high score in leadership, demonstrating that strong leadership is not the only factor contributing to school effectiveness.
So how can the ineffective schools become more effective? In Jamaica, one main ingredient was present in all the effective schools. That secret ingredient was a School Improvement Plan (SIP), which, though mandated by the MoE, is not implemented in all schools. The four important components of the SIP that seem to contribute to school effectiveness are:
- Collaboration of key stakeholders in the creation of a shared school vision
- Incorporation of the SIP into the routine of the school
- Continuous monitoring and evaluation
Going beyond the SIP and the NEI classification, the School Effectiveness Study identified effectiveness-enhancing conditions as detailed in a nine factor model. The model includes eight enabling factors and a ninth factor, effective school leadership, which influences all other areas (see figure below).
Let’s take a moment to reflect.
What is the good news? Although student learning levels are low in Jamaica, the results of the NEI show that one in three ineffective schools demonstrated strong leadership. This proves that they are successful in some areas critical to school success. The other good news is that schools can improve without significant budget increases. The factors most associated with school effectiveness do not require large financial investments. Areas such as ‘high level of parental and community involvement’, ‘frequent monitoring of learning and teaching’ and ‘collaboration and communication’ are all highly correlated with positive student outcomes. Strong school leaders who adeptly manage human resources, such as teachers, parents and community members, can produce positive change in their schools. For instance, teachers who collaborate on lesson planning and teaching strategies improve the quality of teaching and learning. Schools that engage their community benefit from additional support and reinforcement of principles taught in the classroom.
In Jamaica, the recently established National Centre for Education Leadership will be applying some of these lessons learned to prepare current and incoming school principals and education officers. The challenge is a large one, but Jamaica has the tools to succeed. Through this training, the small Caribbean nation hopes to start to produce largely-effective schools.
What key ingredients is your community in Latin America or the Caribbean using to make schools effective?
* Justine Stewart is a Research Assistant working in the IDB’s Jamaica country office.